As we barreled west across Kansas back to Colorado, we couldn’t help but think of the Utah desert. So much so, that Roxy began to have dreams about it. We gazed across the rolling prairies and industrial poultry farms, but our minds were fixed on sandstone arches and a night sky illuminated by the Milky Way. Maybe it was the onslaught of rain we dealt with this spring, but we were craving the arid, high-desert in central Utah.
After a brief stop in Denver to see some friends and get some work done, we re-filled our water tanks and continued our drive West. It was cool in Denver when we arrived. Summer hadn’t yet hit its stride. We don’t usually consider late June as being “desert season” but as while looked at the forecast for central Utah it was sixty degrees and raining in Denver. While we sat outside in the cool evening air, temperatures in the high 90’s didn’t seem so bad. We love the desert but the desert doesn’t love our dog. Henry is a bit of a drama king when it comes to heat and he’s not allowed in any of the national parks. With a little research, we were able to find some epic dog-friendly hikes and we were able to beat the heat to boot.
Hike Little Wildhorse Canyon to Bell Canyon Loop
As with all of the hikes mentioned in this article, make sure to hike early in the morning or late in the day. This time is the best lighting for photographs and makes sure you avoid the hottest part of the day. We hiked this loop counter-clockwise by hiking Little Wildhorse Canyon first. If we had to do this hike again we would probably hike Bell canyon first. Little Wild Horse is by far a more scenic canyon. In fact, this is one of the most scenic canyon hikes that we have ever done. The canyon provides shade in the morning and evening so you can stay cool and enjoy the view. Your dog will need to be a fairly confident rock-hopper to complete the loop without assistance. We hiked early during the week and had the hike to ourselves. No need for ropes or canyoneering experience. Be cognizant of rains in the area, the canyons can flood.
Visit Goblin Valley State Park
After hiking on hot sandstone all day we wanted to give Henry’s paws a break. Goblin Valley State Park is a few minutes down the road from the Little Wildhorse trailhead and is the perfect stop on a rest day. The easily accessible valley is home to some of the most unique sandstone structures in the San Rafael Swell. There are yurts and a campground within the state park that can be booked through their website.
Camp in the San Rafael Swell
Utah is home to some of the best free camping in the country. Along Goblin Valley Road (headed towards the above destination) there are many incredibly scenic and free campsites. This is where we set up basecamp for a couple of days, while we explored the area. Most areas don’t have shade although there are a few campsites near the creek that had some trees. You’ll need at least an SUV to access them. We settled by making our own shade with the van and letting the strong desert breeze cool us down. This is also a certified dark sky area and we haven’t seen the Milky Way that vibrant in a long time.
Explore the La Sal Mountains
By the time we reached the Moab area to explore Dead Horse Point State Park (a dog-friendly state park with views of Canyonlands National Park), the mid-day temperatures had reached 105 degrees. We got a tip from a local to head into the La Sal Mountains (about 30 minutes out of town) for a break from the heat. We look the La Sal Loop Road out of town and as we gained elevation we also gained some incredible views. We found an excellent campsite under some trees where we stayed for the final two nights on our trip. There is ample camping in the area and it just takes a little exploring to find it. From here we dropped back down to the desert to hike the Fischer Towers.
Go for a swim in the Colorado River
If you need something to do mid-day or on your way out of town, make sure to take a dip in the Colorado River. It might be triple digits outside but the cold snow-melt water of
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